The first 45 minutes or so of Masquerade fairly tingle with old-fashioned movie excitement, an excitement all too rare these days. Sex, greed, murder, and money; in other words, a lot of fun.
It’s one of those film noir setups in which a group of mysterious people come together, and their various motivations remain teasingly hidden and shifting. At the center of the plot is a young heiress (Meg Tilly), who has become a multimillionaire upon the death of her mother.
Unfortunately, she’s got a sleazy, alcoholic stepfather (John Glover) who won’t budge on claiming his half of everything in the inheritance, including the palatial summer home in the Hamptons, where they are now. Up for yachting season is a young captain (Rob Lowe) who begins romancing the shy, vulnerable heiress. He’s also sleeping with the wife (Kim Cattrall) of the man who owns his boat, but that’s a minor matter.
Throughout the opening sequences, Masquerade evokes its title by conveying the subtle sense that at least some of these people are not what they seem. Is Lowe for real? If he is, why does he seem so callow? And what about the amiable local cop (Doug Savant) who appears to harbor some deep feeling for Tilly?
Once we’re into it, the movie begins to drop its sizable bombshells, a series of twists that change the way we see the characters. The first couple of these are whoppers, although the film probably has one too many fiendish surprises for its own good. In fact, it begins to run out of steam by its last half-hour, and Dick Wolf’s original screenplay starts to out-clever itself.
I still enjoyed it. It’s a good vehicle for director Bob Swaim, an American who made films in France for a few years (La Balance was a crackerjack cop movie); his most recent film was Half Moon Street. A sense of place is so important in a movie like this, and Swaim gets a summery feeling for the elegant location.
Some of it’s a bit slick, and too often Rob Lowe appears to be posing for one of those Calvin Klein underwear ads. (The bedrooms in this movie are an important field of, um, action.) However, Swaim uses Lowe in a smart way. Since Lowe is an almost completely inadequate actor, Swaim is able to exploit his lack of expression and make it look like dark mysteriousness, exactly what this character should embody. Neat trick; I wonder if Lowe knew about it?
First published in the Herald, March 1988
Noirish score by John Barry, too. I wonder if this holds up? There was a little flurry of neo-noir for the young folk going on around this time (the Rob Lowe-James Spader Bad Influence, for instance), so maybe something was in the air. I was hard on Mr. Lowe here, but I think we can agree he got better. Swaim went back to France; Dick Wolf gave birth to the monumental Law & Order universe.